Booking a flight involves navigating a maze of decisions. Is it better to fly a budget airline or a full-service airline? How about that basic economics vs conventional economics? Would you prefer pretzels or cookies?
Choosing between one or two one-way tickets is the easiest decision and – you might be surprised to learn – one of the most difficult.
The price between the two is usually the same for domestic flights, but can vary significantly for international routes.
With airfares in January 2023 26% more expensive than in January 2022, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data, budget travelers need to save every penny.
In general, it may be more convenient to book a round-trip flight for a trip with specific start and end dates, but other considerations, such as cancellation policies and prices, may make a one-way booking more attractive in some cases. And things work differently for flights booked with miles.
Let’s figure it out.
For flights within the United States on the same airline, round-trip tickets almost always cost the same as two one-way tickets.
There is one caveat here: booking two one-way tickets between different destination or arrival airports may save you money (or cost more) in some cases.
“Fares don’t need to be booked as returns,” says Laura Lindsay, travel trends expert at SkyScanner, a travel booking platform. “Look at saving money to save money: fly out on one airline and return on another, or fly out of one airport and return to another.”
Many online travel tools will automatically compare the prices of these mismatched airline routes or airports and automatically include them in the search results.
But it may be worth checking manually, especially for plans that include different local airports or for airlines that do not appear in search resultssuch as the South West.
All that said, for domestic flights, the difference is almost always washing.
For international tickets, the logic changes completely. Round-trip tickets are usually cheaper than one-way tickets, sometimes by a lot.
NerdWallet compared fares on several international routes and found that buying two one-way tickets typically costs 20% more than a single round trip.
To determine these differences, we compared routes between four U.S. airports and two airports in each destination region.
The effect is more pronounced when flying to some regions, such as Africa and Asia. However, for flights between the US and every region we looked at, booking two one-ways costs more than booking one round trip.
In some circumstances, such as open-ended trips where you don’t know when you’ll be back, one-way flights may still make the most sense. But for most international trips, round-trip fares are the clear winner.
The difference between the cost of round-trip air tickets for international routes
Average additional cost of purchasing two one-way tickets instead of one round-trip ticket.
Are round-trip or one-way flights cheaper when booking with points?
How about the price difference between one-way and round-trip fares when using points or miles?
Generally, airlines break these fares into one-way segments, meaning there is no significant difference between them in terms of cost. However, there are a few caveats:
- Fees for award flights may be higher when booking two destinations in one direction. Delta Air Lines, for example, tends to charge more for flights originating in Europe.
- Some airlines, such as ANA, prohibit one-way award flights.
- Flights booked using credit card points through a travel portal (ie not transferred to a partner airline) follow the same rules as cash fares.
The impact of changes and cancellations on the two options should also be considered.
In most airlines change fees have been eliminated, which makes it easier to change and cancel both types of tickets. But canceling one part of a round-trip ticket can sometimes be more difficult than canceling a one-way ticket.
In some cases, you may need to call customer service instead of canceling online to ensure that the change does not also cancel other segments of your flight.
And finally, there is the matter of simplicity.
Is the simplicity of having a single route driven by a single roundtrip confirmation code worth these other trade-offs? This simplicity, combined with the fact that round-trip tickets are almost never more expensive than two-way tickets, means these fares make sense for most travelers.
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Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @samsambutdif.
Article Two one-way flights or one round trip: which is better? originally appeared on NerdWallet.